Types of Safety Gloves
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Each glove type offers various benefits and features that make them the better option for specific tasks and hazards. However, they each have their limitations that also need to be considered before choosing those best-suited in your work environment.
Leather gloves are highly durable, made with tanned hides of various animals and are a popular choice for tasks that require abrasion, heat, and fire resistance. Liners can be sewn into leather gloves to offer protection from additional hazards, and other additives and treatments can also be integrated to enhance glove performance.
Because leather is a natural material, it softens over time to conform to the hand’s shape. This adds to dexterity and comfort. But not all leather grains are created equal. The part of the animal’s body the hide comes from contributes to leather’s overall thickness, feel, dexterity, durability, and comfort. To learn more on the different parts and types of leather materials used for safety gloves, see Glove Shell Materials | Leather.
Note: The only mechanical protection that leather gloves really provide is abrasion resistance. While thicker and more abrasive hides may also offer a degree of cut and puncture protection—it is nominal. This is because leather is just skin, and skin inherently offers almost no cut or puncture resistance. For this reason, some leather gloves are paired with other engineered materials to enhance protection.
Thanks to engineered yarn, string knit gloves can offer protection from a variety of hazards. Engineered yarns incorporate the benefits of two or more fibers to make them an even stronger yarn. This also allows to integrate higher levels of mechanical protection without compromising comfort or dexterity. Like leather, other additives and treatments can also be integrated into string knit gloves to enhance performance.
Another important factor to consider for knit gloves is the glove’s gauge. Glove gauge, which is actually the gauge of the yarn (i.e., string) used to make the glove, typically ranges from 7- to 21-gauge. Lower gauge gloves are thicker and offer more cushioning and durability, while higher gauge gloves are thinner and more dexterous. No one gauge is better than the other. It all depends on the tasks and hazards for which they’re needed. To read more on materials used for string knit gloves and glove gauge see Glove Shell Materials | Knitted Yarn.
Mechanics gloves are essentially different layers of materials (natural or synthetic) sewn together to make safety gloves. This construction method allows us to integrate zoned protection. What this means is that protection can be localized to glove areas where hands are at high risk of injury. Another advantage of mechanics gloves is that there is a wider variety of material options that can be sewn onto the gloves that would otherwise be difficult to incorporate in other types of gloves.
Chemical gloves are designed to repel liquids and fluids. The outer shell of chemical gloves is fully coated to resist penetration and soak through of liquids, as well as to resist chemical degradation.
Chemical gloves can be supported or unsupported. An easy way to understand is to think of it as lined or unlined. A lining that supports the glove acts like a skeleton for the glove to maintain its shape, even without a hand in it. Cotton and nylon are the two most common materials used as liners for chemical gloves. Less often, you will see high-strength fibers like para-aramid, meta-aramid, or HPPE being used as well. Essentially, the lining adds to the gloves comfort, durability, and ease of donning and doffing. On the other hand, an unsupported glove cannot keep its shape without a hand wearing it.
The best way to shop for these gloves is to identify the chemical you’re handling and match it to the glove material that resists that chemical. For this, you can ask an expert or consult your chemical SDS (safety data sheet). For more information on key features and attributes of the materials used in manufacturing chemical gloves, check out Glove Additives and Treatments | Palm Coatings.
Disposable gloves are primarily used in the food and health industry to prevent product contamination of bodily fluids, bacteria, etc. They are commonly made with nitrile, and sometimes, made with latex (though latex poses the risk of allergic reactions).
For more information on key features and attributes of the nitrile and latex used in the manufacturing of disposable gloves, see Glove Additives and Treatments | Palm Coatings.
The table below provides a quick comparative summary of the defining characteristics and limitations of each type of work glove.
Glove Shell Construction
Features and Attributes
Cut pieces are sewn together (has seams)
Common leathers: cow, sheep, goat, pig, horse, buffalo, deer, elk
- Highly durable
- High abrasion resistance
- Naturally flame resistant
- Less dexterous than string knit
- Least cost-effective when compared to others
Common fibers: cotton, nylon, polyester, HPPE, para-aramid, meta-aramid
- High dexterity
- High breathability
- Engineered yarns can offer several hazard protections
- Lower durability than leather
Layers of different materials
- Cut and sewn
- High dexterity
- Variety of protection offerings
- Zoned protection
- Less dexterous than string knit
- Less durable than leather
Nitrile, neoprene, latex, PVC
- Resists liquid and chemical penetration
- Can resist chemical degradation
- Provides limited range of mechanical protection
Nitrile, latex, vinyl (PVC)
- Prevents cross contamination
- Offers lowest durability
Glove shell construction
Leather and mechanics gloves are manufactured using the cut-and-sew method. What this essentially means is that different pieces of material are cut out and then stitched together to manufacture these safety gloves. An advantage of this style is that it allows glove manufacturers to achieve different sizing requirements more easily. But stitching pieces of materials together also means that these gloves will have seams and impact the feel and dexterity of these gloves.
How different pieces are stitched together in a cut-and-sew construction style is determined by the glove pattern used. When we say pattern, it’s the way the fingers and other pieces of the material are attached.
- Essentially, when constructing leather gloves, the goal is to achieve durability, dexterity, and maintain a sense of feel.
- And, when constructing mechanics gloves, the benefit of this method allows for zoned or targeted protection in areas that require it most.
Let’s explore these cut-and-sew patterns in more detail.
- Seamless back
- One “gunn” seam at the base of the two middle fingers facing the palm
- Seam in a natural hand crease allows fingers to easily bend
- Seam in a removed area reduces glove wear out
- Most common type of pattern
- Individual strips of leather sewn together
- Three long seams at the back of the hand
- More break points improve dexterity and range of motion
- Old pattern and not commonly used
- Individual strips of fabric that go up the back of the hand and sewn between the fingers
- Seamless palm design eliminates wear points
- Inserts between the fingers boost flexibility and comfort
- Thumb sewn straight up – parallel to the other fingers
- Fast to sew and easiest to attach
- Most economical choice
- Thumb sewn on completely flat to the side of the glove like a wing
- Fast to sew
- Thumb sewn more onto the palm side
- Harder to attach than a wing thumb
- Offers better ergonomics than wing and straight
Seamless knit style describes all string knit gloves that are knitted on a hand form using automatic glove knitting machines. During the process, there is no point at which the yarns have to be sewn together—hence, they are seamless. A benefit of having no seams is that it improves glove strength by removing stress points where they can be ripped. Another advantage of this construction style is that in using yarn (as opposed to leather), the finished form is more dexterous, softer, and pliable. Knitting it around a hand form also allows glove manufacturers to integrate ergonomic considerations, like the curves of the fingers, which makes these gloves more comfortable to wear. It is also a more cost-effective and quicker method compared to the cut-and-sew style used in the manufacturing of leather and mechanics gloves.
There are various styles of cuffs to protect and support your workers’ wrists and arms on the job. For safety and ease of use, it is important to ensure that the glove cuffs are appropriate for the task at hand.